Live Barcelona Blog: Will Barca defend their La Liga title?

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Good morning, Barcelona fans. Alan Cooper here, along with the rest of the Sport360 team, bringing you the latest news from the Camp Nou.

As ever, get in touch with us throughout the day on Twitter and Facebook.

8:20pm – Barcelona will fight on all fronts, says boss Ernesto Valverde

Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde says he will not make the Champions League their priority over retaining the La Liga title this season.

Read the full article here.

Ernesto Valverde

Ernesto Valverde

5:32pm – What could count for and against Barcelona in La Liga title defence

Our man Chris Bailey assesses Barca’s chances at retaining their crown.

Read the piece here.

Champions again?

Champions again?

11:30am – Valverde not prioritising Champions League over La Liga

Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde says he will not make the Champions League their priority over retaining the La Liga title this season.

The Catalan giants have won the league in seven out of the last 10 season but have struggled in Europe, advancing to only one final since 2011.

Read more here.

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What could count for and against Lionel Messi's Barcelona in La Liga title defence

Chris Bailey 18/08/2018
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And then there were three. If there was any doubt that Atletico Madrid could mount a serious La Liga challenge this year, it was expunged in Estonia the moment Diego Costa lashed a grenade past Keylor Navas.

The UEFA Super Cup is a tame curtain-raiser compared to what will come but there is a sense Atleti proved they can go the distance in the title race after dispatching Real Madrid after extra-time.

Reigning champions Barcelona have freshened up an aging squad and Julen Lopetegui, who suffered the trauma of being sacked by Spain after being handed the Real reins, must smooth out the Cristiano Ronaldo aftershocks.

We sum up the reasons for and against all three clubs hoisting the trophy come May – now it’s Barcelona’s turn. Click here for Atletico Madrid‘s assessment and visit this link for the summary of Real‘s chances.

WHY THEY WILL WIN LA LIGA

MalcomBarcelonaUSTour (1)

Unlike Real, Barcelona haven’t pussy-footed around in the transfer market. They’ve trimmed the fat by shipping Yerry Mina, Lucas Digne, Andre Gomes and Gerard Deulofeu to the Premier League. The meaty Arturo Vidal was a welcome surprise alongside the injection of fresh talent in Malcom, Clement Lenglet and Arthur Melo.

Ernesto Valverde had a traumatic first summer in charge given Neymar’s abrupt departure and Ousmane Dembele’s injury-wrecked start to the season. The 4-4-2 was a hasty, safety-first adaptation rather than by design, helping to protect Andres Iniesta’s legs on the left – even still they won La Liga at a canter.

WHY THEY WON’T WIN LA LIGA

Iniesta

However, there’s no guarantee a change to a preferred Valverde formation will be an improvement. Indeed, it could end up exposing some defensive frailties, especially if Philippe Coutinho is stationed in the midfield of a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1.

Iniesta, while used sparingly last year, was still one of the world’s very best playmakers and Dembele, for all his attacking strengths, lacks tactical discipline for now if he is to be the left-sided prong of the attacking trident.

Then there’s Luis Suarez, who took ages to limber up last season and it won’t help if he’s isolated as the lone frontman. Even if he fires, he has no obvious relief from the bench.

KEY STORYLINE

Messi

Barca crave Champions League silverware. Every time Real Madrid lift ol’ big ears, they are metaphorically stepping on Blaugrana bodies all the way up to the podium. Juggling that clamour for European success, a La Liga tilt, Messi’s freshness and both a change of personnel and tactics will be a delicate balance for Valverde.

On the subject of Messi, he turned 31 in June. Will any fallibility creep in over the course of a draining season that started with the World Cup or he will shine even brighter in Spain now Ronaldo has fled?

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Luis Suarez backed to hit the ground running by Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde

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Luis Suarez shone at the World Cup but struggled last season for Barcelona.

Luis Suarez has been backed to hit the ground running despite enduring an unimpressive pre-season when Barcelona launch their La Liga title defence.

Suarez struggled to make any impact as a starter against Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup and replacement in the friendly against Boca Juniors – his first appearances since helping Uruguay reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup.

The 31-year-old striker will act as Barcelona’s spearhead in their season-launching showdown with Alaves at the Camp Nou and while coach Ernesto Valverde is aware of his slow start last season, he insists he will soon burst into life.

“Luis is fine. He’s only just coming back from his break, so he’s gradually getting up to speed, but he looks good,” Valverde said.

“Luis is a goalscorer. He’s aggressive in the area. We know what he gives us. Regardless of his success in front of goal, the fight is always there.

“Last year, at the beginning, there were criticisms because it took him a while to start scoring, but when he started he did not stop.

“He guarantees fight in front of the goal. It’s a matter of patience and perseverance, and what Luis has is perseverance. Once he gets started he doesn’t stop. He’ll keep plugging away.”

lionel-messi-luis-suarez

Valverde has revealed that Lionel Messi could be used on the right and views the Argentina playmaker’s wellbeing as key as he looks to make up for a disappointing World Cup.

“It’s possible – we know his tendency to be drawn to where the ball is,” Valverde said.

“Whether Messi plays out wide or through the middle, it’s always an advantage for us. That’s how we’ve started ahead of the new season, we’ll see how he gets on.

“Like everyone else, Messi needs to feel comfortable, be involved in the game, score and set up goals. I think that’s practically what every player needs.

“But it’s true that there is a lot of commotion around Leo just for who he is – both here and in Argentina.

“What we have to do is create an environment for him in which he feels happy out on the pitch.”

New signings Clement Lenglet, Arthur, Arturo Vidal and Malcom have been involved in pre-season but their roles against Alaves have yet to be revealed, although they are unlikely to be in the starting line-up.

Alaves, who are managed by former Barcelona defender Abelardo Fernandez, finished in 14th place last season but have been widely tipped to struggle in this campaign.

However, they were the last team to win in La Liga at the Camp Nou two years ago.

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